My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes that it really is pretty absurd that the United Kingdom should have to submit any report of our financial affairs to Brussels. After all, the EU's own financial management is in a frightful mess, largely uncontrolled, wasteful and even fraudulent. My main question to the Minister is why we go on paying such huge sums to the EU at all, especially in these difficult times. In asking this question, I support the powerful speech of my noble friend Lord Vinson.
I cannot help but remember an appearance in about 1994 by the right honourable Kenneth Clarke MP, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, before your Lordships' European Select Committee, on which I sat at the time. He was giving evidence on a report on fraud and waste in the European Union that we had produced, the latest of several reports that the committee had produced over previous years. Yes, Mr Clarke, agreed, things were indeed unacceptable; the British taxpayer really should not go on giving so much money away to such an unaccountable institution. But he assured the committee we could relax. The ebullient Chancellor informed us that the cavalry was coming: control of the EU's financial impropriety and waste had just been handed over to a Mr Schmidthuber, with full powers to sort it out. That was 15 years ago; and so, to all noble Lords who claim that the EU is sorting itself out—I fear that the Minister may be among them—I have only one word to say: Schmidthuber.
Since then, we have had the frightening saga of Martha Andreasen, who became the EU's first qualified accountant in 2002 in response to the mass resignation of the Santer Commission. She was promptly sacked for refusing to sign its fraudulent accounts and for insisting that its computer and accounting systems were incapable of producing accurate or useful figures. I am glad to say that she has recently become the treasurer of the UK Independence Party. I spoke to her this morning. She is aware of all the wonderful new procedures, systems and improvements which Brussels claims to have put in place, and her comment was, again, brief: "window-dressing".
I therefore ask the Minister a question which I have asked several times before, although not, I think, of him. Why do we not withhold the vast sums of cash that we send to Brussels, which amount to about £9.5 billion net per annum according to the noble Lord, Lord Ryder, until an independent auditor, one of the big international accounting firms, is appointed which could account for them? Why do we not withhold our billions until that happens? I remind noble Lords that there is no independent auditor for the European Union, and its internal auditors have refused for 14 years to sign off its accounts. No institution on the planet could survive that, except in altogether disagreeable jurisdictions.
In the other place a week ago, my honourable friend Mr Philip Davies MP put this question to the Minister, Mr Ian Pearson—no relation, he would want me to assure you. He did not get the vestige of a reply. I look forward to the noble Lord's reply and hope that he does better than his predecessors.
The developing EU is an increasingly nasty beast. It already makes most of our national laws, in a secretive process, and executes them to the exclusion of Parliament. Its court is a function of itself, and there is no appeal against its judgments. Its treatment of whistleblowers such as Mrs Andreasen is deplorable and it is becoming steadily more dismissive and aggressive towards those of us who do not agree with it. I fear that the Eurocrats are becoming the new nationalists, who brook no criticism of what we regard as their ill fated project.
I remind noble Lords that our membership is cripplingly expensive. It costs us perhaps 8 per cent of our GDP per annum. That includes the figures for overregulation, additional food costs and straight cash. Yet with its own accounting system continuing to be entirely inadequate and open to fraud, Brussels has the nerve to tell us how to alter our own accounting standards. It also presumes to inflict 41 damaging directives on the City of London—most of which, I fear, have not yet started to bite. It even suggests that it should be entrusted with sorting out the banking crisis. You could not make it up.
I conclude by asking about one other attribute that the EU shares with all undemocratic states: its use of expensive propaganda, to which we contribute. This is a good day to ask about this, because in Brussels this evening the brilliant and mildly Eurosceptic think-tank Open Europe is launching its latest analysis of the EU propaganda machine. It is generously entitled The Hard Sell: EU Communication Policy and the Campaign for Hearts and Minds and reveals that the EU spends a minimum of €2.4 billion per annum promoting itself and its central aim of ever closer union. That is more than Coca-Cola spends.
In case Europhile noble Lords are tempted to think that my use of the word "propaganda" is excessive, I will quote from the EU Commission:
"Neutral factual information is needed of course, but it is not enough on its own. Genuine communication by the EU cannot be reduced to the mere provision of information".
I suppose that Brussels thinks that this propaganda is necessary as the EU grows steadily more unpopular with the people whom it seeks to dominate, especially with the British. Why should the UK continue to pay its 10 per cent share, some €240 million per annum? Could we not spend that money better elsewhere?
I look forward to the noble Lord's reply, but I fear that I can guess at it. I suspect that he may seek to justify our continued ruinously expensive membership of the EU by repeating the arguments offered by the Government during our debates on the Lisbon treaty last summer, to the effect that, whatever the financial and constitutional costs of our membership, it is worth it because the Government enjoy more clout on the international stage and can deal better with international terrorism and with its sacred cow, global warming. That is a convenient position for our "conference-ariat" or political class to take, but it does not stack up. One can see that because EU countries have scarcely collaborated very successfully during the recent financial crisis. It will soon be obvious to real people that any of these pretended advantages could just as well be achieved through intergovernmental collaboration. They will then be even less enamoured of the unfortunate project of European integration, with its attendant costs to our sovereignty and exchequer. They will continue to get angrier the longer we stay in this wretched project.